As Penn plans a return to in-person instruction this coming fall, it has yet to announce whether vaccines will be required for students.
Several colleges and universities have recently announced that they will require students to have received a COVID-19 vaccine by fall 2021, including peer institutions such as Brown University and Cornell University. However, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said it is too early to determine whether Penn will require students to be vaccinated. Dubé also expressed concerns that it may not be possible to mandate COVID-19 vaccination, since the vaccines are only approved under Emergency Use Authorization.
Despite these concerns, requiring vaccination for students would come with many benefits, both for students and for the West Philadelphia community. Because of this, Penn should require COVID-19 vaccines for students this fall if legally possible, unless students have a reasonable religious or medical reason not to.
Requiring COVID-19 vaccination will keep students safer and allow them to have a more normal campus experience. If all (or almost all) students are vaccinated, this will greatly reduce the risks associated with being in a classroom, eating with friends in a dining hall, living in a dorm, and enjoying other essential components of an in-person college experience. Students who are required to attend in-person classes will feel much more comfortable knowing that their classmates are vaccinated, especially given recent data showing that vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna substantially reduce COVID-19 transmission. Additionally, if all students on campus are vaccinated, they may be able to participate in social activities, extracurriculars, and other events that would be too risky otherwise. This would not only help students stay safe, but also substantially improve the campus experience.
Penn should also require COVID-19 vaccines for students to protect the West Philadelphia community. Many West Philadelphia residents were upset that the University brought students back to campus this spring, as they worried this would increase local infection rates. This semester, the University experienced spikes in COVID-19 cases among undergraduate students, and many students violated Penn’s Student Campus Compact and Philadelphia guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 outbreaks among students are unlikely to remain confined by campus boundaries, as students visit local businesses, eat at local restaurants, and travel within and outside Philadelphia. Penn should require vaccination for students to minimize COVID-19 transmission by students and reduce the harm caused by irresponsible behavior.
Requiring COVID-19 vaccination does not pose concerns about access, as vaccines are expected to be widely available within the next few months. All adults in Philadelphia will be eligible for vaccination beginning April 19, and in many other parts of the United States, every adult is already eligible. Based on current vaccination rates, every American adult who wishes to be vaccinated will be able to receive a vaccine over the summer. Additionally, the University is planning to vaccinate students in the next few weeks, giving many the opportunity to be vaccinated even before leaving campus this spring. Thus, most Penn students in the United States should easily be able to be vaccinated before the fall semester starts.
Despite this, Penn should recognize that some students may not be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The University should offer medical and religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis and should accommodate international students who cannot receive vaccines in their home countries before moving to Philadelphia. These international students should be allowed to complete their vaccinations when they arrive on Penn's campus.
Requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students this fall will help keep Penn’s campus and the West Philadelphia community safe, without imposing an undue burden on students. Thus, the University should follow the example of peer institutions and implement this policy.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.